Walk Powerfully by Faith

32And what more shall I say? For time will not permit me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets. Those, by faith, conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained what was promised, 33shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched the power/fury of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were strengthened from weakness, became strong in battle, put to flight foreign armies. 35aWomen received back their dead by resurrection. (Heb. 11:32-35a)

Hebrews chapter 11 has thus far detailed for us 18 Old Testament heroes of faith who trusted God for what he promised but was yet unseen, with each example beginning with the expression by faith (vv. 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31). This sequence of examples has taken us from the time of creation to Israel’s conquest of Jericho upon entering the Promise Land.

The remaining examples of heroes of faith presented in 11:32-39 round out Old Testament history from the period of the Judges to the time of the Prophets. They are presented in two summary lists: list 1, a string of names of those who exhibited faith (v. 32); list 2, a string of deeds that were done by faith, prefaced with a single by faith (vv. 33-39).

The 1st list consists of three pairs of names and one generalized category (the Prophets). Each pairing is indicated by switching their order of appearance in biblical history:

      Gideon (Judg. 6-8) and Barak (Judg. 4-5);

      Samson (Judg. 13-16) and Jephthah (Judg. 11-12);

      David (1 Sam. 16) and Samuel (1 Sam. 1)

Each pairing shares a common theme that illustrates faith.

Gideon and Barak were both afraid to lead Israel into battle. Gideon needed signs from the Lord to assure him that he would be victorious; Barak would not lead Israel into battle unless Deborah the judge went with him in his chariot. Acting in faith, Gideon routed the Midianites and Barak the Canaanites.

Samson and Jephthah both acted rashly. For Samson it was his impulsive desire to marry a Philistine woman, which led to a series of scrimmages with Samson defeating the Philistines each time and one final crushing blow where with God’s help he collapsed a temple in which the Philistine rulers and many of their people were gathered. For Jephthah it was his rash vow, that he would give to the Lord the first thing he saw coming out of the door to his home, if the Lord gave him victory against the Ammonites, which turned out to be his daughter, when he returned home after leading Israel in a rout of the Ammonites.

In the instance of David and Samuel, the tie goes back to their youth. Both as boys were devoted to God—Samuel in serving in the temple; David in tending his father’s sheep. It would be Samuel then who would anoint young David as Israel’s next king.

This extended passage (11:33-39) cordons off two sections, neatly dividing examples of people in grand measure experiencing in their lifetime successful outcomes to their faith (11:32-35a) from examples of people in dire circumstances without ever seeing come to pass in their lifetimes the promises of God in which they were so resolutely believing (11:35b-39).

The first block contains 10 examples of faith with positive outcomes arranged under 4 categories:

      3 examples of people exhibiting faith in military conquest and rule in society

            conquered kingdoms                                                                                                                                                   

            administered justice

            obtained what was promised

      3 examples of people exhibiting faith in miraculous deliverance from death

            shut the mouths of lions

            quenched the power/fury of fire

            escaped the edge of the sword

      3 examples of people exhibiting faith in victorious battle exploits

            were strengthened from weakness

            became strong in battle

            put armies to flight

      1 example of people exhibiting faith in earthly resurrection

            women received back their dead by resurrection

The second block contains 10 examples of faith with harsh experiences where they never experienced God’s deliverance again arranged in 4 clusters:

      cluster 1

            were tortured

            faced jeers and flogging

            were chained and put in prison

      cluster 2

            were stoned

            were sawn in two

            were put to death by the sword

      cluster 3

            went about in sheepskins and goatskins

            were destitute, persecuted, and mistreated

      cluster 4

            wandered in deserts and mountains

            lived in caves and holes in the ground

We live not by sight but in the promises of God. It couldn’t be more true, than in these days. The timing of this devotional turns out to be impeccable as a reminder of this for all of us. It’s a great time to be alive, not necessarily because everything is like we’d want it to be, but because of how present circumstances, Lord willing, will continue to increase people’s desire for God and the gospel work of his Son.

So whether our circumstances are more in line with the first group of 10 examples or of the 10 examples of the second group, Jesus’ promise to the disciples in the last line of Matthew’s Gospel continues to hold true for us today. The Greek literally reads: and behold I am with you all the days until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20b). Those days included the disciples’ time, but our time as well.

We are still waiting on the promise of Jesus’ return from heaven; in the meanwhile, we have the promise of Jesus to be with us now, even as I write this devotional and you read it.

Jesus will help us take his road, but for us, as witnesses of his gospel work, whether it be easy or hard. And as with Jesus, all of this is with the assurance that resurrection awaits us as it did for him at the end of the day. Here as well he blazed that path for us to follow.

So let us walk powerfully by faith, being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.